Welcome to the Society of Saint John the Evangelist

Who Are You

1 Cor. 2:10-16; Ps. 145:8-15; Luke 4: 31-37

I have a problem: I don’t believe in demons–not in any literal sense. So I can’t believe in casting them out.  And, so, I can’t think of Jesus as an exorcist.  I love scary movies with “beasties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night”. But Jesus is not my personal Lord and exorcist.  He is many things to me, but not that.

The demon-buster stories, by the way, occur only in Matthew, Mark and Luke (the synoptic gospels).  John has no stories of Jesus casting out demons.  In all the letters of Paul, there is not a single reference to Jesus casting out demons. Beyond the synoptic gospels, the whole exorcist thing falls off the screen.

Why are there exorcisms in the synoptic gospels but nowhere else?  I don’t know—that would be interesting to find out.  But, it would seem, John and his followers had a somewhat different vision of Jesus.  And Paul and his followers had a somewhat different vision of Jesus.  So, it seems to me, we, too, are permitted to have a different vision of Jesus.

But, if Jesus is not our personal Lord and exorcist, who is Jesus?  “Who are you, Lord?” Paul asks when he’s knocked off his horse on the Damascus Road.  “Who are you, Lord?” He says—not realizing he has answered his own question.

We hear echoes of another question: “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus’ question to his disciples at Caesarea Philippi.  Jesus’ perennial question.  Jesus’ question to our own questing and questioning hearts.  “Who are you, Lord?”  “Who do you say that I am?”

These questions reverberate down through history.  How we answer those questions is in constant flux. Each generation envisions Jesus in its own way.  Each culture envisions Jesus in its own way.  Each branch of the Church envisions Jesus in a particular way.  Even other religions understand Jesus in their own way.  Always in flux, the vision of who Christ is, is a living thing: living, changing, growing, shifting.  Shifting focus, changing emphasis.

Teacher, prophet, king, Lamb of God, Savior, Light of the World, Bread of Life, Prince of Peace.  The second Adam, the new Moses. The Good Shepherd.  The Way, the Truth and the Life.  The Resurrection.  The Word of God who was in the beginning with God and was God.  The Word made flesh.  And Jesus is friend.  And much more.

How we see Jesus depends a lot on where we stand.  Our vision of Jesus often is shaped by our circumstances.  Many people who came to maturity during the social upheavals of the 1960’s, to take one example, came to see Jesus as “liberator”.  A vision that was there all along, but it took a particular social context for it to be seen clearly.

“Who are you, Lord?” we ask.  “Who do you say that I am?”

We search for a fuller vision.  And our searching is part of a deeper searching. “The Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (1 Cor.).  The Spirit searches the depths of God wherever God is.  The Spirit searches the depths of God in and through the depths of the human heart, in and through the theater of the human imagination.  The Spirit searches the depths of God—in and through the complexities of the human experience and all its joys and sorrows.

Perhaps the Spirit’s searching is what Paul means when he says in that same passage “We have the mind of Christ.”  The Spirit of Christ in us, searching, searching, searching.  The mind of Christ, searching, searching, searching deep within us for the vision of Christ in all its fullness.  A vision that—somehow!– requires our participation.

“Who are you, Lord?”  “Who do you say that I am?” I should try to answer that question myself.  Who is Jesus—for me, for now?

Jesus has been many things for me—and continues to be.  Not an exorcist—at least in any literal sense. Whatever my personal “demons” might be, they have psychological roots, not supernatural causes.  But, if Jesus is not my personal Lord and exorcist, then what?

Teacher, prophet, king, Lamb of God, Savior, Light of the World.  Good Shepherd.  The Way, the Truth and the Life.  The Resurrection.  Love.  Word made flesh. Friend.  Healer.

All these things resonate in my soul. And one more.  In my own prayer and reflection I have been drawn increasingly to think of Jesus as Sabbath, in a sense, the True Sabbath.  (Some of you may recognize these thoughts from a brief early morning homily a few weeks ago.)

There is a Sabbath of time, a chronological Sabbath: the seventh day, the day of rest from our labors. Jesus is, in a way, the personal Sabbath–perhaps we could say the existential Sabbath. Monday is my chronological Sabbath; Jesus is my personal Lord and True Sabbath.  So, I am doubly blessed with Sabbaths.

Maybe new vocabulary, but not a new idea. “Our souls are restless, Lord, until they rest in you,” St. Augustine said.  Jesus himself says, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”  Come to me and you will find rest for your souls.  Our hearts rest in Jesus, even in the midst of very busy lives our heart of hearts rests in him. Even when we’re saying things Jesus wouldn’t say; even when we’re thinking or feeling things Jesus wouldn’t think or feel—even then our heart of hearts rests in him.

This Sabbath rest is with us always—seven days a week, even unto the end of the age. In him we live and move and have our being.  Shabbat shalom.  Sabbath peace.  Come to me; rest in me.

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9 Comments

  1. Robin Carlo on January 26, 2014 at 07:31

    Thank you Brother Mark for these meditation-provoking words; “Jesus is my Lord and true Sabbath”.

  2. Claudia Booth on January 25, 2014 at 10:27

    “Who are you, Lord?” Isn’t that just the way we are? Ha, ha, ha!

  3. Anders on January 25, 2014 at 07:19

    Shabbat shalom. A wonderful expression. John talks about creation of and by the Word, and the jist I learned is that as Christians we can start with all these black and white pat answers. No wonder we end up weary and heavy laden. We eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, of having it all figured out, and no wonder we have “demons” of psychological drama which need to be cast out. As Nietzsche said: absolute certainty brings terror. Thanks for the permission to ask questions, to sojourn, to let “The Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God”. Shabbat shalom.

  4. george miller on January 5, 2013 at 23:54

    your face Lord, will I seek. it’s interesting that the psalmist doesn’t say he has found the Lord’s face, but that he will seek it. I think as long as we are aware of our humanity, we will be seeking God. Partly, as you suggest, because our image of God is always changing as we grow, as we seek HIm

  5. Br Graham-Michoel on January 5, 2013 at 14:08

    In my oratory I have a menorah – a constant reminder of Jesus as Light of the World and the Everlasting Rest. Brother Mark, you hit on a significant concept of Jesus as the 24/7 resting place. St Augustine’s words ring ever true in a world that needs light and rest. Thank you for writing this and sharing it.

  6. Anders on January 5, 2013 at 06:44

    Thank you. It appears that Jesus was asking the question in the second person singular “Who do hey you say I am?” vs. the plural “Who do you all say I am?”. The church often calls for a group think and individual accountability in identifying Jesus with mixed results: at times redefining his spirit called for by the times and at other times crucifying him, with his resurrection happening outside of the church parameters.

    I am plagued by the conflict between personal and group faith, so I particularly appreciate the Jesus as personal or existential Sabbath. In this Sabbath, I bring my current challenge to integrate sexuality and spirituality to positively affirm both into light and into rest. The forum may be largely silent, with some taking an approach of exorcism and others the sensuousness of using hair to wash feet in perfume. When I listen closely in Sabbath, the dialogue and rest are all there and we are alive.

  7. Virginia Nagel on October 19, 2012 at 14:12

    I am a great fan of Mark Twain. Reading your “Give Us A Word” post on “Who is Jesus?” reminded me of a passage in The Innocents Abroad where Twain comments that every church, cathedral and art gallery he visited had different images of the Blessed Mother, but NONE of them managed to include the indescribable thing that made her look like a Jewish woman…each artist painted her according to his own cultural mores. I love your posts by the way, they seem to resonate with my own senses and views in an incredible way, and always give me food for thought.

  8. Pablo Eduardo Martínez Mena on October 19, 2012 at 08:42

    Yo creo que responder a la pregunta del Señor ¿Quien dices que soy Yo? es el objetivo de cada cristiano, es el proceso de transformación interior que lleva la vida toda. A cada uno, de manera particular, única e irrepetible el Señor se le manifiesta. Creo que cada día de manera misteriosa, pero simple y en la cotidianidad el está presente. Bendiciones, Pablo.

  9. elizabeth d hoffman on November 18, 2011 at 19:20

    Br. Mark,
    Thank you so so so so much for re-posting this sermon today. I have for the last year or two been plagued by nightmares. I, like you, don’t believe in supernatural demons, but no amount of talk therapy has made these nightmares subside –if anything, they have just become more vivid of late. Last night I was awoken by one of them. In it I was writing a diary entry on the topic of John, but I couldn’t get my writings to make any sense, and I kept erasing and trying to rewrite. Then, a kind of alien figure came into my room –it was terrifying. I woke up, and it was about 2:00 a.m. Eventually, I got on the web and started to listen to sermons from SSJE, and this put me at ease, and eventually I was able to be calm enough to go back to sleep –clutching my crucifix. It wasn’t exactly like casting out demons, but I know that Jesus was with me, and I felt the fellowship of the SSJE brothers.

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